Many languages have words that can be interpreted either as question words or as existentials. We call such words quexistentials. It has been claimed in the literature (e.g., Haida 2007) that, across languages, quexistentials are (a) always focused on their interrogative interpretation and (b) never focused on their existential interpretation. We refer to this as the quexistential-focus biconditional. The article makes two contributions. The first is that we offer a possible explanation for one direction of the biconditional: the fact that quexistentials are generally contrastively focused on their interrogative use. We argue that this should be seen as a particular instance of an even more general fact—namely, that interrogative words (quexistential or not) are always contrastively focused—and propose an account for this fact. The second contribution of the article concerns the other direction of the biconditional. We present evidence that, at least at face value, suggests that focus on a quexistential does not necessarily preclude an existential interpretation. Specifically, we show that it is possible for Dutch wat to be interpreted existentially even when it is focused. We attempt to explain this phenomenon.
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May 17 2022
Quexistentials and Focus
Online Issn: 1530-9150
Print Issn: 0024-3892
© 2021 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For a full description of the license, please visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.
Linguistic Inquiry 1–54.
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Kees Hengeveld, Sabine Iatridou, Floris Roelofsen; Quexistentials and Focus. Linguistic Inquiry 2022; doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/ling_a_00441
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